Late Work by Kristen Case


Bright essence of bright effluence increate. Milton, now blind, speaks to light. A thick snow occupies the air and dulls all objects. Mornings I seek a cold unsharable clarity. Ahead of all summons. When the air clears the revealed world is bleached, a loose wreck. The glass window on the stove parcels the fire into gothic forms. Slip in, bright essence, dear damage. I am naming names.






Blest pair, and O, yet happiest yet if ye seek / No happier state, and know to know no more. A little warm light on everything, a little rushing beneath. Imagining the funereal options I regret messages seeking a happier state. The sunlit snow against the kitchen window is lineated like the lucid interior of quartz, a picture of past hours. Inhumation as reflective of certain metaphysical tenets. Nothing, my Lord. Tenets from the Latin for hold. Know to know no. Little rushing, little rush. Neither the dead interiors of trees nor the minds of others.






…one first matter all, / Indu’d with various forms. A little line of blue flames in the body of the wood lights its secret structure. These hidden interior axes, these years, given over to the visible. Striated as a glacier along the lines of its decomposition. Second person as a second self, second in command, inner other. A double streak of light over the neighbor’s roof, still blue. Milton’s monism was controversial. Here is the curve in the tree, which the years obeyed, curving within it. Where are you, second person? Into what matter? He made the angels eat. The blue recedes. Invisibly, until it is accomplished.






All Heart they live, all Head, all Eye, all Eare /All Intellect, all Sense, and as they please, /They Limb themselves. Picture the bright immortal body, self-limbed. Picture a tree’s growth, or an embryo. This metal so recalcitrant. They limb a long year. In the grammar of conversion, what promises. The fire spends its lit flourishes.






Ethereal, first of things, quintessence pure. Light makes the hour, the room. Expanded margin, new increment. Each object shadowed and discrete. Somewhere a welcome. The little shoots of houseplants, welcome. The long-shelved books unread, content. Somewhere a singing. Somewhere the countless rills.






As drops on dust conglobing from the drie. Milton’s God makes the world from himself rather than from nothing. Now angel. I empty the ash pan and light the fire. Ex deo, ex nihilo. A diffuse weather. Monism makes sleep a sort of sinking back. Now animal. The new wood is heavy and slow to burn.






Long choosing and beginning late already a white light surrounds the yard and its figures, each branch articulate in late snow. At the edge of vision the trees multiply into a fine haze. Haze general, haze incipient, haze of a lucent unfolding. I regret my absence at the cremation. An internet information guide tells me the body is exposed to a column of flames. Milton, we are late, and one of us is blind. The cat, erect on back paws, watches for birds. Minor weight on a minor branch. A few dark chords.






There was a place, / Now not, though Sin, not Time, first wraught the change. Red light on the edge of things, high branches, periphery of clouds. Sin both makes and unmakes geography. Some bird sounds its two-note call, unseen. The new wood is slow to burn, but burns at last.






Climat, or Years damp my intended wing / Deprest, and much they may, if all be mine. The daily strangeness of waking to find oneself located and of an age. Pink, fleetingly, in the east windows, is a kind of time and a kind of weather. Milton’s iambic clock never misses a. Now the chickadee, located too, though differently, closer to light. I am slight and would burn quickly. Much they may.






And I, perhaps, am secret. Outside is April. A little birdsong in the blue light. I know what Milton thinks, and Milton’s God. Light on the weathervane, the sap buckets, the bell tower’s open arch. Where can we meet, now you have exiled me? A two-note, three-note call. Remote. Remotely.






Forbids us good, forbids us to be wise. Reduction of the world in late-season snow, a narrow white enclosure. How difficult it is to accept love. How one’s thoughts maneuver around it blankly, whitely. In cremation, the bone fragments must cool before they are reduced to a fine dust. Imagine fallenness as a reduction requiring more and fiercer love. O dull light, o frozen world. Soon, and everywhere.






So late thir happie seat so late. So late my waking, the light already accomplished. So late the debt, so late the fullness of love. Now the stream sounds its highest flood sound, its April sound, numbing other noise. She said, we said goodbye which meant they burned his body. Now the birds: so late, so late. Now the column of flame. Milton saw God in all matter. I lately wish for you an angel’s body. The screen fades whitely in the daylight. I can hardly see.







Kristen Case’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Chelsea, Brooklyn Review, Pleiades, Saint Ann’s Review, The Iowa Review, Wave Composition, Eleven Eleven, Wildness, Rust + Moth, BOAAT, Matchbook Magazine,and The Harvard Review. Her chapbook, Temple, was published by MIEL in 2014, and her full-length collection, Little Arias (New Issues, 2015) won the Maine Literary Award for Poetry. She is co-editor of the essay collection 21 | 19, featuring contemporary poets writing on 19th-century American texts, forthcoming from Milkweed Editions. She is also the author of numerous scholarly essays and the introduction to the bicentennial Penguin Classics edition of Thoreau’s Walden and Civil Disobedience. She teaches English at the University of Maine at Farmington.